The Stories Begun

{July 6, 2010}   The woes of “I.”

This was going to be my topic last week, but I thought of it right before I fell asleep on Monday and could not recall it for the life of me on Tuesday.  Thankfully, the topic has returned to the fore of my brain.

Let’s talk about first person.  From the title, it seems obvious  that I have issues with it.  My main issue comes as a writer: I have an awfully strong sense of Voice.  (Remember the six writing traits that plague all students?  There are seven now. 🙂 Joy.)  How can I appropriately separate myself from my characters and not loose that distinctive flavor that is me?  Or, conversely, how can I separate myself from my characters enough so as not to make each one sound the same and less like me?  This high-wire balance act is another distinguishing feature I’ve found in authors as opposed to writers.  Writers literally cannot let their Voice go.  Don’t get me wrong, your Voice is precious, but it is not the only thing a writer has to offer.  What makes first person narratives work is the differentiation between the narrator and the other characters.  A flat, tofu-like flavor is given to all the voices when one of that flavor might have made a fantastic Voice.  They all go dull in a matter of a few pages.  I’m sure I don’t have the answer to how to fix this problem, except that for now I must recognize that my characters are not me.  They are my children, so to speak, but they are not me, nor can I treat them as extensions of me.

My second issue with first person comes from the perspective of a reader/potential author: Readers tend to assume that first person books/novellas/short stories are the perspective of the writer.   Even I find myself guilty of this at times.  This is partially due to a question that has yet to have a proper answer: Can an author truly separate themselves from the work enough?  Is it even possible to write in first person and not be the Voice of the Work?  I think it is.  Though there are “fifty-seven academics” who strenuously disagree with me, I believe Shakespeare’s sonnets to be shades of him and his characters, possibly characters we will never know.  Though all are written in first person, I can pick out ones that sound like Ophelia to me.  There are others that seem like prep work for Juliet’s monologues.  Yes, I believe Shakespeare put himself in more than a handful of his sonnets, but I sincerely doubt he was the Voice for all of them.  I find the most strenuous objections to books tend not to be content-based, but the fact that the readers assume that the author, because the author put this content on the page in the terms “I verbed pronoun” or “I verbed noun,” supports said verbing.  I’m going to say it’s far more likely that the author needed that action or behavior to advance the story.  I’ve written several things, things I would rather never again touch, because it was necessary.  Convincing writing, especially in the first person, is often necessity, not reality.  When we, as readers, expect authors to be writing only what they believe into books, we answer the questions posed at the beginning of the paragraph with a resounding, “No!  We will not allow it.”  How unfair readers are to authors when they do this.

My last “issue,” which is less of an issue and more of an observation, is once again from the perspective of both a reader and an author: Writers can’t help inserting themselves into books as characters, especially works written in first person.  This does not help the second issue. In Percy Jackson and the Olympians there is a character that is so plainly (to me) the author that I have to laugh.  I might be off in my mark, but I know what the identifying characteristics of writing one’s self into a narrative are, having done so myself–more than I would like to admit.  I don’t do it anymore because of these exact issues.  However, this does not make the character bad.  In fact (and I am purposely with-holding the character’s name so that no one–whether you’ve read the series or not–is prejudiced), this character is one of my favorites.  This is unsurprising, since I so thoroughly love the author’s work.  Part of me observes this to be a bad practice because of one of my questions: Can an author divorce themselves from a work enough?  When an author inserts themselves, I believe the answer to be “no.”  The other part of me wonders if maybe this is a good practice, allowing authors to blow off just enough steam to make their other characters, well, “other.”

I have no answer.  To any of my questions, to any of my issues.  This blog is titles “The woes of “I.”” because that is exactly what first person causes me: woes.  However, I find quite a bit of joy in it as well.  I don’t think Stefan would have been half so effective in third person.  Right now, I’m taking a well-earned break from first-person as a narrative option.  Scarlett is in third-person and I’m liking the way it’s turning out to be.  It’s amazing that what I WANTED people to miss in Stefan is what I want them to SEE in Scarlett.  Different tales, different characters, different styles.

I love writing.

Express away,



loveofonearmy says:

its very amusing because i agree completly but after haveing read many of your works i think no matter what a peice of “you” is always in the story. im not sure its intentional but i nocie that with every book or story i read the author is always present a tiny bit. it gives the book a form of relity to me. that if it didnt exsist in reality it exsisted in someones mind, which brought it to life 🙂

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